CareNow® - October 11, 2019

One of the biggest parenting debates the past few years has been whether to vaccinate your children.

You may have heard the term “anti-vaxer,” which refers to someone who is adamantly against vaccinations because he or she believes they pose numerous health risks.

Outbreaks of measles are on the rise, however, and this could put unvaccinated children in danger. For parents who have yet to vaccinate their children, here some things to consider.

Measles Outbreaks are on the Rise

The number of confirmed measles cases in the United States hit a 27-year high in the first five months of 2019 with 1,241 cases throughout 31 states. The next-highest figure was in 1992 with 963 cases being reported for the entire year.

In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (commonly known as the CDC), declared that measles were considered eliminated; however, at the rate outbreaks are happening, the United State is likely to lose its measles elimination status.

Symptoms of Measles

So how can you tell if your child has contracted the measles? There are several tell-tale signs, including fever, rash, cough, runny nose, and red, water eyes. Unfortunately, these symptoms show up 10 to 14 days after your child has been infected.

This makes it difficult to get a proper diagnosis and to take measures to prevent the virus from spreading to others. It isn’t until your child is nearly two weeks into the illness that he or she develops a rash consisting of small red spots, usually first appearing on the face.

This rash often shows up as spots and bumps in tight clusters and will give the skin a splotchy and red appearance.

Side Effects of the MMR Vaccine

The MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) is critical for keeping measles from spreading. The vaccine has been tested extensively and has very few side effects, which may include mild rash, fever or temporary discomfort at the site of the vaccine.

Unfortunately, many parents believe that there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. This misconception comes from a false report that was quickly retracted and discredited many years ago.

In fact, between 1999 and 2010, a study of 657,461 children in Denmark tracked diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder along with certain risk factors and determined that there was no link between the vaccine and autism.

However, as more and more children fail to be vaccinated for measles, the infection is making a comeback.

Number of Unvaccinated Children in the U.S.

Every year, there are cases of children who get severe, life-threatening illnesses that could easily have been prevented by vaccines. According to data from 2017, about 6 percent of children attending kindergarten in the United States did not get the MMR vaccine.

Of that 6 percent, 5 percent did not get immunized against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis and 6 percent were not protected against chickenpox.

In many cases, parents choose not to vaccinate their children because they’re not concerned about the diseases being immunized against.

However, there are infectious diseases being spread around the world—measles included—and these vaccinations offer their children protection.

Complications of Measles

If one of your children contracts measles, it is critical that he or she is seen by a medical professional as soon as possible to avoid potential complications. Complications can range from ear infections to pneumonia, and all can be prevented with proper care.

These complications include:

  • Ear infection: A bacterial ear infection is the most common measles complication.
  • Bronchitis, laryngitis or croup: Inflammation of the voice box or the inner walls that line the main air passageways of the lungs can lead to these complications.
  • Pneumonia: A common complication of measles, pneumonia often affects children with a compromised immune system.
  • Encephalitis: Encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, develops in about 1 in 1,000 people with measles, and it typically shows up after the infection has cleared—potentially even months later.
  • Pregnancy problems: When a pregnant woman gets measles, the infection can result in preterm labor, low birth weight and even maternal death.

Because the complications of measles can be so severe, it’s important that your children be vaccinated to prevent getting and spreading the virus.

How to Prevent Measles

The best way to prevent getting measles is by getting your children vaccinated. Most doctors will recommend that infants receive the first dose between the ages of 12 and 15 months, with a second dose given around 5 years of age.

If you know that you will be traveling overseas with a child who is only 6 to 11 months old, let your doctor know as he or she may recommend receiving the vaccine earlier.

Do you have a teenager who didn’t get vaccinated as an infant? Don’t worry, two doses of the vaccine four weeks apart can help protect your older children.

If someone in your home has measles, it’s important to keep him or her isolated from the other members of your family. Measles is highly contagious for about four days after the rash occurs, meaning the affected person should remain in isolation during this time.

If you or your child develops symptoms that appear to be measles, seek medical attention as soon as possible. A doctor can diagnose measles based on the appearance of the rash as well as a small spot, called Koplik’s spot, that appears on the inside lining of the cheek.

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Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.